Book Two: The Silerian Trilogy
Tansen crept through the damp foliage, moving carefully in the dark so as to make no sound. Up ahead, he could see the faint glow of torches lighting the perimeter of Wyldon’s stronghold. As he drew closer, he could hear the sounds of running water.
Emperor Jarell of Valdania had sworn to destroy the Society during his lifetime, and the Empire’s Outlookers had worked toward this goal for some forty years. Consequently, the waterlords had lived in hiding and on the run since well before Tansen was born, though they had never relinquished their power over Sileria’s water or her people. In a wealthier, easier era, the Society might well have felt that joining Josarian’s cause was too risky to be worth the effort. Fortunately for Sileria, though, the Valdani had ensured that the waterlords had little to lose and were willing to follow destiny and join the rebellion. Tansen was the Society’s enemy now, but he knew—as he told Josarian long ago—the rebels had needed them to defeat the Valdani. Unity had been essential, just as enmity was now inescapable.
Although Valdania had lost its grip on all of Sileria except for the city of Shaljir, the waterlords hadn’t yet adjusted to their new situation, so most of them still lived in the secret, hidden places to which they and their forebears had retreated years ago. Kiloran inhabited an inaccessible palace of water beneath the surface of Lake Kandahar, Baran squatted in Harlon’s ancient abandoned ruins at Belitar surrounded by an ensorcelled lake, and Wyldon… Wyldon’s stronghold was a cave, deep in the forest, whose entrance was hidden by a waterfall.
However, in the absence of the Valdani, Wyldon had abandoned caution and now boldly announced his presence here with a stunning display of waterworks. Tansen hid in the lush, wet foliage that grew in thick abundance all around Wyldon’s dwelling and looked for assassins patrolling in the torchlight. Most would be asleep now, but there were bound to be sentries posted. He’d have to rely strictly on sight to find them, because Wyldon’s residence was so damn noisy.
The waterfall itself filled the night air with a steady rushing sound that might have been soothing under different circumstances. It split into dozens of shimmering strands halfway down the stone wall along which it flowed. The sparkling strands twisted to become coils that formed an elegant barrier of gleaming bars over the entrance to Wyldon’s cave before weaving together again and flowing into a pool which lay in the center of the small torch-lit clearing.
With his clothes now soaking, Tansen sincerely hoped that Wyldon’s cave was so damp it gave him rheumatism and made his worldly possessions rust and rot.
The pool of water, in turn, spewed an enormous fountain that arched high upward to feed the waterfall, completing the enchanted cycle. A billion dancing droplets of water, glittering even at night, flew away from the fountain’s sky-reaching curve. Wyldon, not content with this display, also indulged in water sculpture. Men, women, and beasts inspired by Silerian history and myth, as well as by Wyldon’s own fancy, populated the clearing around the pool, all of them fashioned from water.
Just a trifle ostentatious, Tansen thought.
Rumor had it that Wyldon was touchy about his artistic talents and had once killed an assassin who’d said the wrong thing about one of his sculptures. People also claimed that several local toreni not only praised his art, but actually paid him for it, just to appease him. Looking at some of Wyldon’s efforts now, Tansen suspected those toreni had put the sculptures in the darkest, most forgotten corners of their residences.
Hiding amidst soaking foliage and with nothing to occupy him as he waited, Tansen was chilly and bored by the time an assassin finally wandered into view.
It’s about time.
An attack which met with no opposition was normally the ideal situation, but since the goal tonight was to be seen and noticed, he’d had to wait until now.
Uttering a piercing, high-pitched battle cry that he hoped would carry above the noise of the water and alert any assassin within earshot, as well as inform his own men to commence the attack, Tansen leaped out of the foliage with a shir in each hand, launched himself at the assassin—and slipped in the mud created by Wyldon’s copious waterworks.
The soles of his wet boots slid out from under him, and his arms flailed as he went careening into the stunned assassin.
“What th—Oof!” The assassin went down, winded by the violent collision.
Tansen reached out to stab him—and missed completely as he went sliding past his opponent and straight toward the geysering pool of water.
He scrabbled wildly at the slick mud as he slid downhill.
A slope? This didn’t look like a slope!
He crashed into the low—previously unnoticed—barrier surrounding the pool. Winded and smarting in a dozen places, he hauled himself to his feet and turned to face the assassin—who’d already risen and now came at him in a flying tackle.
They went tumbling backwards together into the water pool—which was not, Dar be thanked, ensorcelled against enemies. Wet and cold, yes, but it didn’t freeze Tansen’s parts off.
He rose to his feet again, glad that the pool wasn’t deep—he’d sunk only to his waist—and peered through the heavy shower of water raining down on him from Wyldon’s magical fountain. The assassin was on the other side of its dense core.
They both started to circle it at the same time. Unfortunately, in the same direction. Tansen stopped and switched direction—again, at the same moment the assassin did. They stopped again and stared at each other in consternation.
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Tansen shouted, “I’ll wait here.”
He didn’t know if the assassin—now looking very annoyed—had heard him, but the man came tromping laboriously through the waist-high water while Tansen awaited him. Meanwhile, a few shrill sounds coming faintly from around them suggested that others were fighting now. Squinting against the water pouring down on him, Tansen glanced over his shoulder and saw frantic movements beyond the edge of the pond. The battle was on.
The pond, he realized suddenly.
Yes, he could leave a shir sticking out of the assassin’s body, but what if it got dislodged somehow, after his escape, and sank to the bottom of the pool?
That would be just my luck.
Realizing he needed to kill the man on solid ground to be sure that someone would discover the shir, Tansen found himself obliged to run away from his approaching opponent. He glimpsed the assassin’s incredulous expression as he started retreating, making his way to the edge of pond.
This is embarrassing.
They were close enough together now that he could hear clearly when the assassin bellowed, “Come here, you coward!”
“Come catch me!” he replied.
I sound like a coy virgin.
Tansen placed his hands on the solid barrier surrounding the pool and, pausing just long enough to make sure he wasn’t leaping into another assassin’s arms, heaved himself up out of the water. The still-healing shir wound on his hand burned in protest, but he ignored it. He stalled his opponent’s oncoming attack with a quick backward kick in the face, then rolled onto the ground. Well, the mud.
The assassin tried to follow, but he slipped and fell back into the water—hitting his head on the solid barrier. He floated face down in the pool, unconscious and drowning in peace.
I don’t believe this.
Tansen looked around for another opponent. Someone he could actually kill with the damned shir this time. There were a number of men struggling together all around him now, mostly rolling around on the slippery ground. It was dark, the men were all dressed in black, and they were all covered in mud. He couldn’t tell Wyldon’s assassins from his own men.
Maybe I should just wait around for someone to attack me, he reflected sourly.
However, the combatants were all so occupied with each other than no one seemed to notice him. The steady rumble of the water ensured that he couldn’t hear anyone’s voice well enough to distinguish friend from foe. He supposed he could just drop a shir on the ground, but that seemed so obvious that even Wyldon might suspect it had been left behind on purpose.
“Wouldn’t anyone like to fight me?” he invited.
He took a few quick steps backward as two mud-coated tumbling bodies came hurtling toward him across the ground. When he backed into something solid and icy cold, he stopped abruptly and spun around—or tried to. Two chilly arms encircled him from behind with astonishing speed and held him fast.
He saw water enfolding him. Felt water against his body. Sensed the cold evil of water magic engulfing him.
Wyldon’s sculptures! They weren’t just there for decoration, he realized, they were sentries. Less effective than Wyldon perhaps supposed, since all Tansen’s men had slipped past them and were wreaking havoc now. But the statues were not without their uses, he acknowledged as he struggled against this one.
The shir, he thought suddenly. His own Kintish blades had always proved ineffective against water magic, but a shir was different. Its watery origin was the same as this ensorcelled statue’s. And the shirwas harder than this creature, in the way that a steel blade was harder than flesh. The arms the held him now possessed magical strength, but they were nonetheless soft, fluid, full of give.
He gave up his struggle and, lowering one hand, reached back and plunged the shir into what passed for a leg on Wyldon’s water-born sculpture, then ripped sideways, destroying the limb.
The thing lost balance and started to wobble. The creature’s grip on him loosened, and Tansen twisted in its cold embrace. Aiming at what could best be described as its torso, he plunged the shir into it and pulled it downward, gutting the creature like a fish. It released him and collapsed, the shir still stuck in its ruined body. Only one shir in hand now, he stared as the statue started to disintegrate, melting into mere water again, a puddle growing around the shir he had left sticking out of it.
Now killing that thing, Tansen figured, was a believable reason for an assassin to forget his shir.
Time to go.
He stumbled way from the corpse—so to speak—and started yelling, “Retreat! Fall back!” The men didn’t seem to hear him, so he entered the fray, still shouting for retreat.
Someone barreled toward him, and Tansen nearly killed the man in sheer reflex before a familiar voice howled, “No! Don’t! It’s me!”
“Galian?” He blurted at the moving mountain of mud. “Go! Go! Now!”
“That’s an order!”
Wyldon’s waterfall roared angrily, a very different sound from its rumbling rush. The coiling bars over his cave’s entrance began hissing like angry snakes as they parted like curtains.
“Retreat!” Tansen shouted again, worried now.
“I’m trying!” Radyan shouted back.
Tansen whirled in the direction of that familiar voice. He recognized Radyan just in time to see him slip and fall, locked in deadly struggle with an assassin.
The angry roar of the waterfall had attracted another of the men’s attention, and he was already making for the forest.
Taking care not to lose his footing, Tansen made his way to where Radyan was struggling in the mud. He meant to deliver a fatal blow to Wyldon’s assassin with his shir, but the two men were rolling around so much that he only got the shoulder. No matter, it was enough to stop the struggle and let Radyan escape, which was what counted right now.
The violent roaring and hissing of the water all around them was enough to alert his remaining men to make their escape, though one was pinned down by one the water sculptures—which were actively stalking the intruders now.
That does it. I am never coming back here.
The shallah struggled violently, grunting in pain beneath the watery claws of some huge, fantastic, catlike creature. Tansen leaped on it and used the shir to cut off its head. Then he grabbed the muddy, bleeding, dumbfounded man by the arm and dragged him into the thick foliage, where they made a wet and undignified retreat, with all due haste, from the scene of their battle.